Thomas Willett’s review published on Letterboxd:
Among my friends, I may be the most responsible for getting them to see this movie. After all, it is in my Top 5 of all time. It holds a lot of personal attachment that I only began to understand as I grew older. However, that personal reason is one that is rather obvious once you read the plot description. By some irony, 2010 was the year that my parents began their plan to separate. My sister was more torn than me, as I believed that they were happier apart. Somehow this film helped me confront those fears in ways that are rooted deep down.
I am someone who has grown attracted to these type of stories. I love exploring the psychology of people on film, and it shows in most of my favorite movies. I love the intimacy and understanding where everyone is coming from, no matter how objectionable I find them. For some dumb reason, my way of coping is to watch depressing movies to better understand myself. It's why I love Ingmar Bergman and am fascinated by Lars von Trier. I wonder why life is like it is, and it's surprisingly only a recent trend that I've begun liking more upbeat romances like Carol and Frances Ha. Still, none hold that power over me like staring into a Derek Cianfrance movie, specifically this underrated film.
I do have unfortunate ulterior motives for watching this today of all days. Whereas it came to me when my parents separated, I am about to enter that phase with my sister and her husband. It has been painful to witness and tomorrow he'll drive from California to North Carolina to start life anew. Speaking as I have a more personal relationship with him than my parents in 2010, it hurts a lot. Of course, I turned to this film to understand myself in this moment. Frankly, the ending was overpowering because this all started on July 4 weekend and he is leaving behind family. It felt all too real, and that was only the beginning of things that made me uncomfortable this time around. Cianfrance manages to capture something genuine in a love falling apart that is perfectly balanced by the innocent beginnings.
What I love is that those joyous moments are some of the greatest that I have ever seen. Michelle Williams singing the presidents song is something that I think about a few times a month. I love that cover, as ironic as it becomes, that Ryan Gosling sings of "You Always Hurt the Ones You Love." The film is riddled with those moments where love feels new and exciting, and I love that it's met with excellent cinematography and costume design. Gosling, who has had a fantastic career since, has never been better than when he's playing the insecure jerk who doesn't get the problems with his wife. Williams' struggle to maintain reason is just as powerful. I hate that it has traces of my parents and now my sister and her husband in it, but it's why I love this movie. Despite all of the conflict, there is that need for a love that once made sense.
I'm sure I'm alone in calling this the best of the decade. I'm sure even more won't even call this Gosling or Williams' best (Williams was just as good in the similar Take This Waltz). I think it is, but it's because I revel in being uncomfortable in order to understand myself. I believe it has kept me sane as I at least make my fears seem rational or valid. Few films have come close to being as emotionally, viscerally, and personally influential to me. While I pray that I'm not doomed to a life of people separating, I at least know that this film will be there to guide me, make me feel at peace with the world.